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Project Cal-Well

A project to promote mental health awareness and wellness among California's kindergarten through twelfth grade students.

Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Project Cal-Well is designed to raise awareness of mental health and expand access to school and community-based mental health services for youth, families, and school communities.

Project Cal-Well was initially launched by the California Department of Education (CDE) in partnership with three Southern California local educational agencies (LEAs) from 2014–19: Garden Grove Unified School District (USD), ABC USD and San Diego County Office of Education (COE). Building off successes and lessons learned from the first cycle, the CDE is partnering with three LEAs in Northern California for the second cycle (2019–2024): Humboldt, Stanislaus and Sacramento COEs. The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School Health Services Research and Evaluation Team is evaluating the initiative.


The CDE received two cohorts of five –year grants from SAMHSA to launch Project Cal-Well in 2014-19 (Cohort 1) and 2019-24 (Cohort 2). Using a three-component intervention model, Project Cal-Well strives to achieve the following goals:

Goal 1: Provide universal supports to create positive school climates that help school-aged youth develop skills to promote resilience and pro-social behaviors; avert development of mental and behavioral health disorders; and prevent youth violence.

Goal 2: Increase access to and availability of sustainable culturally competent and developmentally appropriate school-based mental health (SBMH) programs staffed by mental health staff to screen for, provide early intervention for, and to address any ongoing mental health needs of children with symptoms consistent with a mental disorder(s).

Goal 3: Build partnerships and cross-system collaborations to promote youth well-being and increase and improve access to sustainable culturally competent and developmentally appropriate community-based mental health services.

Cohort 2 (2019-24)

In Cohort 2, the CDE is expanding its work into Northern California partnering with the following LEAs, serving students and families from eight school districts from five counties:

  • Humboldt County Office of Education
  • Sacramento County Office of Education
  • Stanislaus County Office of Education

Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2023-24)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2022-23)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2021-22)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2020-21)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2019-20)

Cohort 1 (2014-19)

In Cohort 1, the CDE served students and families from five school districts through a partnership with the following three LEAs in Southern California:

  • ABC Unified School District
  • Garden Grove Unified School District
  • San Diego County Office of Education

Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2018-19)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2017-18)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2016-17)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2015-16)
Project Cal-Well Funding Results (2014-15)

Project Outcomes

From 2015-16 to 2018-19:
  • More students in Project Cal-Well schools reported willingness to seek help from a counselor, doctor or therapist if scared, stressed or depressed (secondary students increased from 15% to 19%, elementary from 22% to 27%); and
More Project Cal-Well school staff…
  • Knew how to identify students who were in emotional distress or in need of mental health services (from 72% to 77%)
  • Received support from their schools to address students’ mental health needs (from 51% to 62%)
  • Were confident in their ability help students address their mental health needs (from 51% to 55%)
  • Engaged in specific actions ten or more times in the past year to support students, including listening to students’ issues (from 41% to 52%), talking with them about their issues (42% to 49%), helping them to calm down (41% to 46%), and giving them information to help with their mental health related issues (19% to 24%).
  • Referred students to services and supports for mental health needs, including school-based (75% to 85%) and community-based (from 24% to 42%) mental health services, crisis hotlines (8% to 20%), and self-help strategies (29% to 61%).
  • Had put into practice their schools’ written policy about how to support students with mental health concerns, including suicide prevention and post-vention (from 13% to 26%).


A key component of Project Cal-Well is to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training to district and school staff statewide, at no cost. YMHFA is a research-based curriculum created upon the medical first aid model. It is designed to provide parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, neighbors, and other caring adults with skills to help a school-age child or youth who may be experiencing emotional distress, the onset of a mental illness, addiction challenge or who may be in crisis. YMHFA participants learn to recognize signs and symptoms of children and youth in emotional distress, initiate and offer help, and connect the youth to professional care through a five-step action plan.

Unless it is used as a refresher, YMHFA training is not intended for staff with a mental health background such as school psychologists, social workers, clinicians, etc., due to its basic nature. The ideal audience includes teachers, administrators, nurses, counselors, and any other credentialed staff, classified staff (school secretaries, registrars, yard supervisors, campus monitors, bus drivers, lunch staff, janitors, aides, after school staff, etc.), parents, youth employers, and other community partners that have contact with students.

This no cost training is currently delivered virtually through two hours of self-paced learning and five and a half hours of instructor-led training. The training can be delivered in evenings, weekends, and is also available in Spanish.

YMHFA content now includes critical components such as cultural considerations, impact of culture on trauma, school violence and bullying, social media impacts, and self-care. Additionally, the training has been restructured to include information relevant to young children in the elementary school grades.

The CDE is seeking public, charter, and private schools, districts, and community organizations to host YMHFA training. For more information, please reference the letter from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction which encourages county, district, and charter school administrators to take advantage of this free training.

2023-24 YMHFA Informational Flyer (PDF)

To host YMHFA training for your staff, submit your request to

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Campus High School Workshops (NCHS) and Club Support External link opens in new window or tab.
The NCHS is a student-led club that focuses on mental health and wellness and provides a critical opportunity that fosters student involvement, promotes youth voice, awareness, and self-advocacy. The NCHS provides activities for youth that help decrease bullying and the stigma often experienced by those living with mental illness, potentially averting mental health crises, helping reduce youth suicide, and increasing school safety. Students involved in NCHS Clubs and activities are becoming lifelong advocates in the mission to eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and eliminate suicides. The goal of NCHS Workshops is to equip high school student teams and their advisors with information and support to start an NCHS Club on their campus. Through the workshop participants learn, in detail, the goal of NCHS Clubs, activities they can hold, local and statewide activities in which NCHS Clubs can participate, and how NAMI affiliates can support their work.


The California Department of Education contracts with the University of California, San Francisco’s Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies to conduct an independent evaluation of Project Cal-Well program activities. The following data collection instruments were created to assess the social emotional wellness and mental health needs and perceptions among students, school staff, and principals:

Student Survey:

Staff Survey:

Statewide Principal Survey:

UCSF Project Cal-Well Web page External link opens in new window or tab.
Project Cal-Well resources including resource and evaluation briefs, and survey results from the California Principal Mental Health Survey.


Resources below are organized based on Project Cal-Well Three-Component Model External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

Component 1: Creating a Positive School Climate

Student mental health starts with prevention. It is critical that schools work on creating a safe, respectful, and supportive school climate so all students have the opportunity to learn and thrive in a positive learning environment.

  • Virtual Be Well Space External link opens in new window or tab.
    Free virtual space with research-based strategies and supports to calm, activate, or support mental wellbeing.
  • Wellness Education Lab External link opens in new window or tab.
    Free online mental health literacy training for students 13+, staff, and families. Two training modules which takes approximately 45 -60 minute per module.
Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS)

PBIS provides a tiered intervention framework to deliver evidence-based strategies to promote a positive school climate and address student disciplinary issues.

Restorative Practices

Strategies on relationship and community building to prevent and address conflicts, and repair harm as a result of student behaviors or wrongdoings.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Cultivating social and emotional competencies among students have shown to improve student motivation, reduce problematic behavior, and improve school climate.

Trauma Informed Practices

Resources to help educators create trauma-informed schools and compassionate classrooms.

Component 2: Increase Access to School-Based Mental Health Services

A Guide to Increase Mental Health Services for Students (PDF)
This guide is created by Project Cal-Well, with input from the Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup, to assist schools and districts to build capacity to better address mental health challenges among students.

Component 3: Build Community Partnerships and Collaborations

A California Guide for Sharing Student Health and Education Information External link opens in new window or tab.
Best practices for schools on information sharing between schools and community agencies.

School Mental Health Referral Pathway Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
Provides best practice guidance and strategies to support schools in referring and coordinating mental health services for students under a multi-tiered system of supports.


California Safe and Supportive Schools Newsletter External link opens in new window or tab.
A monthly newsletter on school climate and mental health resources, trainings, and information.

K-12 Mental Health Listserv

To receive information about the K-12 Mental Health Services Act Prevention and Early Intervention planning and implementation process, send a blank message to

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Questions: Hilva Chan | | 916-319-0194 
Last Reviewed: Monday, February 26, 2024
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